Italian Language Blog

La Conta Posted by on Jan 24, 2011 in Culture

A few evenings ago, while having dinner with my friends Annalisa e Claudio, the conversation moved onto the topic of the traditional games which we used to play as children such as nascondino (hide-and-seek), chiapparello (catch/tag), mosca cieca (blind man’s  buff), girotondo (ring-a-ring-o’-roses), etc. We all agreed that the fun was not limited to the game itself but started well before with la conta, the meaningless rhyme which children chant in order to choose who will be the one who has to look for the others in nascondino, or who will be "it" in chiapparello, and so on. We had a bit of difficulty trying to remember exactly how the rhymes went after so many years, but between the three of us we were able to piece together the following two conte. As is often the case with rhymes created by children, they involve the use of "naughty" words and images!

This is what we used to do: the children who wanted to play stood in a circle, and one child pointed at each person in turn whilst chanting la conta. The two counts below are chanted in 4/4 time, that is each line has four beats, and each beat corresponds to one person being counted. I’ve highlighted in red the syllables where the beat falls in the first conta:

Ambarabaccicicoc Ambarabaccicicoccò
Tre galline sul co Three hens on the chest of drawers
Che facevano all‘amore That were making love
Con la figlia del dottore To the doctor’s daughter
Il dottore si amma The doctor fell ill
Ambarabaccicicoc! Am-ba-ra-bac-ci-ci-coc-cò!

Of course, when chanting the closing Am-ba-ra-bac-ci-ci-coc-cò we would slow down as much as possible to create suspense!

N.B. There are two common variations to this popular conta: When my mother was a child she used to chant "anghingò" (which only has a count of three) instead of "ambarabaccicicoccò", and some children used to say tre civette (three owls) instead of tre galline (three hens).

I must admit that the second conta was my favorite one because it contains a very naughty image!

Sotto il ponte di Baracca Under Baracca’s bridge
C’è Gigin che fa la cacca There is Gigin doing a pooh
La fa dura dura dura He does it very very hard
Il dottore la misura The doctor measures it
La misura trentatrè He measures it thirty three
A star sotto tocca a te! It’s your turn to be "it"!

My mother knew a slightly different variations when she was a child:

Sotto il ponte di Baracca Under Baracca’s bridge
C’è Ninin che fa la cacca There is Ninin doing a pooh
La fa gialla rossa e bleu He does it yellow red and bleu
A star sotto tocca a te! It’s your turn to be "it"!

Buon divertimento!

Have fun!

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  1. Lee:

    I can remember a few from when I was a child…

    While going aroind the circle one person chants:
    “Bubble gum, Bubble gum in a dish..How many pieces do you wish?”
    Whichever person was at “wish” would say a number. Then, the chant continues “1,2,3…” around the circle until the number is reached and that person is NOT “it”. The rhyme is repeated until only one person is left. “IT”

    “Eenie meenie miney mo..Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollars (yells), let him go.”

    Oh, to be a child again.

  2. Marie Hodge:

    My mother came from Messina and my father came from Naples. They were proud to be in America, yet they always told us about Italy the beautiful country, and my mother said Sicily was exactly like our Florida. They tried to convince us children that Italy was a wonderful country, but with Mussolini playing side-by-side in war games with Hitler who could love a country who was killing innocent people? Americans turned their noses up at us, calling us ‘dagos’ because our parents were from Italy.
    Fifty years later many of my friends have visited Italy and told me how much they loved that country and some have gone back each year. They all wanted to know more about what part of Italy my parents were born. Today I’m trying to learn Italian because I’m so proud of my parents heritage.
    Berlusconi has become what most Americans call a ‘whoremonger’ – or as my parents would have called him a puttaniere! That whoremonger took only 2 or 3 years to disgrace the proud citizens of the most beautiful country in the world!

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